The following talk was given at ‘The Prayer Academy”, Cartsbridge Church on November 7th 2018
Last week, a bottle was washed up on the tiny Hebridean Island of Canna. When one of the islanders picked it up, they realised it contained a brief note which read:
My Love Story
“I have a girlfriend. She is called Jody Gates and my name is George Kirkland. I hope you see this one day and I love you even though we were 4 when we met. I still love you now that we’re 9 now that we both go to Market Hill Primary School.”
Incredible! When you read that, do you not long for Jody to discover that George’s love for her is enduring?! He is now 9 and he has loved her since he was 4!
The ability for a written note, message or letter to move us, inspire us, encourage us is something that most of have experienced in life. A text message, an email, a letter at just the right time can bolster our flagging spirits and give us fresh resolve to keep going.
The letters of Paul are the first century version of our ‘message in a bottle.’ To be clear, they were not thrown by Paul into the Mediterranean with the faint hope that they would reach the countries of Turkey, Greece or Italy. They were carefully delivered to fledging Christian communities who learned about the inexpressible and unassailable love of God for them and for humanity at large.
We are going to dip into these letters in the coming weeks, reflecting especially on Paul’s prayers for the first century church. Our reason for doing this is so that we can align our prayer habits with his. We want to learn what to pray for, what priorities we should adopt, and what beliefs should shape our prayers. To that end, Paul gives us a clear and unmistakable example of how to pray and what prayer is really all about.
As we survey the prayers of Paul, they can be very helpfully summed up in one sentence:
“Paul’s prayers are primarily centred on drawing Christians into a deep understanding of all that Jesus has accomplished for us through his death and resurrection and a dynamic and intimate relationship with God through the Holy Spirit.”
If I could sum up the purpose of the series in one sentence it would be:
“As a church our aim is to reflect on Paul’s prayers in such a way that we hear God speak to us today and find strength and direction to improve our praying, both for God’s glory and for our good.”
Tonight, we launch out into this series as we think about:
Developing an Attitude of Gratitude
Thankfulness is a value that we seek to instil in our children from their earliest days and one that we teach them to express in their relationships.
The theory behind this practice is the belief that children need to be taught to express gratitude and develop a thankful spirit. Parents understand that children learn to be thankful through the process of example, encouragement and repetition.
Why do we invest so much energy into this process? To lift us out of self-focused living into an understanding of the precious gift of life that we have been given.
Those three qualities (example, encouragement and repetition) are embedded in Paul’s New Testament prayers and teach us a great deal about developing an attitude of gratitude.
1. Paul modelled this attitude of gratitude
His prayers for six churches in the world of the first century are framed in spirit of thankfulness.
Read Romans 1:8-10
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.”
Paul thanked God for the Christians in the city of Rome. It must have meant so much to the scattered Christian communities in the Roman empire that the church was established in the world’s capital city.
There’s something I don’t want you to miss here. Paul found reasons to give thanks for God’s people. His prayer here and his prayers for the other first century churches were deliberate, conscious and purposeful.
If you want to find a reason to be critical of people in this church or of the direction you perceive the church going in, then you will find it.
Look at what Paul says here, “First, I thank my God…because your faith is being reported all over the world.” This is first in order, as if Paul says, I am going to begin my letter by giving thanks to God for the Roman Christians.
If Paul had a second point in mind, he never actually gets to it!
Paul’s example teaches us one vital lesson about life and faith. Look for a reason to be thankful first and very often the criticism that you plan to raise afterward disappears or is refined.
2. Paul taught Christians to cultivate an attitude of gratitude
Read Philippians 4:6-7
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
This attitude is cultivated in prayer. It is one of the great passages in the New Testament which Christians in every generation have turned to for guidance and from which they have received encouragement and blessing.
Paul uses three different Greek words for prayer.
The word translated ‘prayer’ is perhaps a reference to general prayers, talking with God about the big things of life and society.
The word ‘petition’ could represent particular prayers. It might be talking to God about a specific matter, event or person.
The third word, ‘requests’, is really about detailed prayers.
This verse informs us that God is interested in the telescopic view of life, the big things, things at a local, national or international level. He calls us to pray about those matters.
However, he also cares about the microscopic view of life, the minute matters, the details of our lives. And he equally calls us to bring those specific requests to God.
Paul says that all of those prayers, petitions and requests are to be offered and framed in a spirit of thanksgiving. Recalling God’s goodness and mercy in prayer will save us from being people with ungrateful hearts.
Worry and anxiety will be displaced and peace will garrison and protect your hearts and minds when we pray with thanksgiving.
Woven through these two central truths is a much more foundational reality – one that fully explains Paul’s thankful heart.
Put simply, deep within the heart of Paul resided a profound sense of gratitude for the grace of God that rescued him and set him free. In the best sense of the expression, Paul never recovered from the discovery of the gospel truth – “…the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). It was a spring within him that continually overflowed in thanksgiving and praise to God.
This understanding should unstop a spring in the hearts of every Christian that begins to overflow with gratitude that God would love even me! In every child of God, there should reside a profound sense of thankfulness for Christ and his work.
A week past on Saturday, 12 young lads from the ‘Wild Boars’ football team in Thailand spent the day at Old Trafford as guests of Manchester United Football Club. I am sure most of you know the backstory to the visit of this team.
Following a training session on June 23 this year, the boys went with their coach to visit caves in the Chiang Rai Province of northern Thailand. A sudden downpour of monsoon rain flooded the caves that the boys were in, making it impossible to leave. That was the beginning of an 18 day ordeal for the boys and their families.
Miraculously, on Monday, July 2, two British rescue divers found all 13 individuals alive on a muddy ledge in a dry air pocket deep inside the cave.
What followed was a truly incredible rescue mission. A team of highly trained divers taught the boys how to dive and swim. Then each boy was tethered to a diver who also carried their oxygen tank. Very slowly they were brought to safety. Each boy’s journey to surface took about 8 hours. The entire team was rescued and the joy when they were all finally brought out was indescribable.
Last Monday, they met the British divers who saved them at a special ceremony and one of the lads said, “It was great to see the divers again, hug them, and thank them in person. They gave us this new life.”
The debt of gratitude these boys expressed to the British divers is pale reflection of the immeasurable debt of gratitude that we should carry in hearts for the great rescue mission that Jesus undertook to set us free from sin to live in the new life of the Spirit.
I believe, that as the children of God, we can learn from Paul. He has taught us to express gratitude and to develop a thankful spirit.
“When gratitude becomes your default setting, life changes.”
(Nancy Leigh DeMoss)